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Retirees up to date come Oscar

Over-70 show-watchers share memories, analysis

Experience speaks when 40 residents of the Frances Goldwyn Lodge at the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Woodland Hills retirement community gather beneath an oil painting of John Ford, and talk as they watch the Oscars from the residence’s pine-paneled dining room.

“For us of the Golden Era, will we ever be satisfied with anyone other than Bob Hope?” asked Hal Riddle, 80, a voting member of the Academy’s acting branch who first attended the Oscars the year “Ben Hur” swept.

“Yes — Billy Crystal,” he added, “the way he handles it comes closest to Hope.”

Indeed Crystal evoked pretty strong laughter during the show’s opening — no easy task when the average age of the audience hovers well above 70.

John Chambers, who won 1968’s best makeup Oscar for “Planet of the Apes,” was impressed by the opening montage. As he watched Crystal dine with Chaplin he shook his head approvingly and said: “With digital, they can take your nose off and make it look plausible.”

It was also interesting to see how much support “American Beauty” had among these veterans, especially in light of how many pundits thought it wouldn’t play to the Academy’s older segment.

“I didn’t like it at first, but I grew into it,” said Lillian Kraus, whose husband Hal had been a gaffer.

This retirement community is certainly sophisticated about current film: First-run movies screen here twice a week.

Another residence favorite was Kevin Spacey, who had visited the retirement community recently. “Charming man,” said Kraus. “Hope he wins.” His co-star, Annette Bening (“the pretty girl,” in Myra Moore’s words) was also popular.

As for the changes in the Oscar music format, it didn’t seem to rattle too many of the residents.

Tom Jones, 81, who attended the first Oscars ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel (his father’s ticket source was MGM exec Eddie Mannix, illustrating how, even then, early connections played a key part in seat wrangling) said that though he’s “part of the Benny Goodman/Artie Shaw crowd,” the new format “works for this. There’s younger people watching.”

Janne Sims, who was a negative cutter (“I was low on the totem pole”) at Fox, U and Goldwyn, said the feeling she had from watching the musical numbers, even “Blame Canada,” which got a few smiles, was “they’re pros, they’re all good.”

There was some applause in the room when Michael Caine won best supporting actor. Dolores Albin, who as an adagio dancer performed for the British royal family in 1934, appreciated his comments on the other nominees.

“He’s British,” she said. “They’re always polite.”

While there’s no official Oscar betting pool, residents get a fruit basket if they pick the winners in the top categories. Last year’s prize was two $10 Savon drugstore gift certificates.

“It’s wonderful when you win,” said singer/dancer Joe Pazz. “I wish it happened all the time.”

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